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gg                                                                                                               B. POLEVOI
the sky, shading their eyes from the sun with their hands.
"Number nine has not returned! Kukushkin has got
stranded somewhere," said Yura.
Alexei recalled Kukushkin's little, jaundiced face which
always bore a discontented expression, and remembered
how carefully he had supported his stretcher that morning.
Could he have been___That thought, so ordinary for an
airman on hectic days, made him shudder now that he was
excluded from the life of the airfield.
At that moment they heard the drone of an engine.
Yura jumped up with a cry of joy:
"There he is!"
There was animation among the men at the command
post. Something had happened. "Number nine" did not
land, but flew in a wide circle round the airfield, and as
it flew over Alexei's head he saw that part of its wing had
been shot away, and what was far worse, only one "leg"
was visible under the fuselage. Two red rockets shot into
the air, one after the other. Kukushkin flew overhead once
again. His plane looked like a bird circling over its ruined
nest, not knowing where to perch. He started on a third
"He'll bail out in a minute. His fuel has run out. He's
flying on the last drops!" whispered Yura, his eyes glued
to his watch.
In cases like this, when a landing was impossible, air-
men were permitted to gain altitude and to bail out. Prob-
ably "number nine" had already received an order to
that effect, but it obstinately kept circling round.
Yura kept glancing at the plane and then at his watcL
When it seemed to him that the engine had slowed down
he squatted on his haunches and turned his head away.
"Is he thinking of saving the plane?" Everybody present
thought to himself: "Jump! Jump, man!"
A fighter plane with a figure "1" on its tail darted into
the air and with the first swerve skilfully came alongside
the wounded "number nine". By the cool, skilful way in
which the plane was handled, Alexei guessed that it was
being piloted by the Wing Commander himself. Evident-
ly deciding that Kukushkin's radio set was out of order,
or that the pilot had lost his head, he had hastened to his
assistance. Signalling with his wings: "Do as I do," he